Hello my name is Katherine Baker and I live with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and formerly suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (although, thankfully, I consider my OCD in remission).

People often toss around psychiatric diagnoses to describe their daily lives.

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Rose Gerber

We use ‘anxious’ to describe normal levels of nervousness, claim to be ‘depressed’ when Starbucks is out of their favorite cookie, and blame ‘ADD’ for grabbing the wrong notebook (which btw hasn’t been a real diagnosis since the 1980s—it’s ADHD—Inattentive subtype). 

And I’m just as guilty of the above as the average person.

I joke about my disorders far too often (probably as a coping mechanism), but the truth is, for those who do suffer from serious, functionally-impairing anxiety, life is a constant turbulent battle towards normalcy, and a continuous facade of pretending to be fine while secretly suppressing waves of internal screaming.

Which is why, for a deepened understanding for those who ask, I am going to give you a personal look at what it is to live with anxiety.

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Alexa Rojek

These experiences are my own, and it's important to note that everyone feels anxiety uniquely and at varying levels.

But after talking to many who also suffer from anxiety disorders, I have found many commonalities in thought patterns, bodily sensations, and the compulsive feeling that we need to hide what's going on.

And sometimes, recognizing that you're not the only one who feels such strong and outwardly irrational emotions and somatic symptoms, can provide a small degree of comfort. Or at least it has for me.

Anxiety is a huge part of who I am: I am chronically early, always worried, tense, unable to relax, and my mind is fast-tracked the worst possible outcome in every scenario.

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Cassidy Rizza

When my dog coughs I promptly call the emergency vet, and when the subway car gets stopped between two stations, I immediately assume it's going to explode. 

I’ve had to excuse myself from various situations to cater to panic attacks, during which an out-of-body sensation overwhelms my body and brain into a shaky, hyperventilating, numb, and dizzy shell of my former self.

I have both vomited and passed out in public restrooms or pulled over on the side of the road from panic attacks, and hours later, arrived somewhere deeply shaken, but making every attempt to cover any indication that something was amiss. 

And although social anxiety has never been what plagues me the most, there's a familiar loneliness I feel in many social situations.

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Becky Hughes

When I get overwhelmed (which happens quickly), my body's immediate defense mechanism is to escape, leaving loved ones to sometimes understandably mistake my disappearance as rudeness or boredom.

Truly, I just need some time to chill by myself and but most often can't, at the time, find the words to explain the storm occurring in my brain. 

I don’t date because quite frankly it’s easier for me to not, and any form of attention or affection makes me uncomfortable and well, anxious, because I always fear not being good enough for other people. 

I overanalyze every single text message, conversation, and email, and am notoriously known for assuming people are mad at me or dislike me, and that anything I've done in life, from academic papers to batches of homemade cookies to Spoon articles, are hopelessly inadequate.

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Michelle Zhang

At times, I feel like I live a double life.

There is the me that most people know: I am able to socialize with friends, hold a variety of jobs, successfully complete two advanced degrees, travel across the country and world, and act as a single mother to the world’s sweetest little pup, Millie.

I appear decently normal on social media, and most people (besides a select group of friends and family who are, thankfully, patient and understanding enough to field my hyperventilating-filled phone calls), I seem like a semi-functional, mostly happy human being.

Luna Zhang

And then there’s the other me, the anxious me. The one who is alway obsessing, paranoid, worried, catastrophizing every situation like it’s my job, and struggling to find a breath when I’m so tense my lungs feel like they are about to pop.

There is the side of me who has cycled through therapists and SSRIs and alternative treatments for years trying to find relief, and looking at non-anxious people in awe, wondering what it must be like to not always feel like the world is on the verge of ending?

And then I wonder how I can be both people: how can I simultaneously have my shit together, and yet, so totally not have my fucking shit together?

Kristine Mahan

The answer (or so I tell myself), is that anxiety is only a small part of who I am, and it doesn't define me or make me weak.

My anxiety and I are integrated, and undoubtably, it is at least partially responsible for the person I have become. And there are parts of my anxiety I have actually come to appreciate.

I never procrastinate (doing things last minute would drive me into a state of sheer panic), have a reputation for being punctual, am excellent at returning emails, and pride myself as being a pretty damn courteous of my dog's potty and eating schedules. 

It's made me more sympathetic of other anxiety-ridden individuals, as well as those who suffer with other psychiatric diagnoses, and has blessed me an with an awareness and understanding that people are often much more complicated than they may appear.

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Nancy Chen

Everyone has a struggle, and everyone deserves compassion. 

And I have always believed that if you have not suffered from an anxiety disorder, it may be difficult to fully understand one.

I’ve been asked time and time again, why I can’t “just relax;” and grow tired of people telling me to “take a deep breath, and realize that things will get better.”

While I know these messages are well-intended, for me, in the moment, I feel as if my feelings are minimized.

Often I am able to later identify my anxiety-driven thoughts and emotions are completely illogical or irrational, but at the time, my feelings, fears and physiological sensations are very real. 

Katherine Baker

Which is why, to those who have asked me how to deal with an anxious person, I will offer the following simple advice:

Instead of judging, minimizing, telling us to "get over it," or offering advice that will fall upon anxiety-deafened ears, simply offer support and maintain calm when we cannot. That, or hand me my puppy.

And more generally, recognize that anxiety doesn't make someone weak or incapable, nor does depression, an eating disorder, SUDs, bipolar disorder, or any mental health struggle that a person may be dealing with.

After all, we are all human beings, and we owe each other the respect to strive to understand, not judge one another.